May 5

MVP INNterview – MikeWillisUK

Another day, another question. Ravenously tapping upon the keyboard there’s yet another stumble. Chris Roberts made a comment on how ejecting will be handled a while back, but its lost in the ether of the internet and hours of footage. Without the quote, it’s difficult to make the point. If only there was an easy way to dig through episodes of 10 for the Chairman. This is where MikeWillisUK came from, and where he was tired of ending up.

Around the Verse: Episode 2.26 @ 40:41 for the MVP

A Star Citizen community member, he has experience with Java, HTML, and CSS before teaching himself some JavaScript to work on his MVP winning project. It took him several days just to work up the coding and layout of the site, and many hours for the on-going transcription portion. The transcription being an eye opening experience for him. I didn’t realise it was quite such a pain in the ass! I’m a reasonably fast typist (about 70-75 WPM) . . . but listening and typing at the same time is a whole different ballgame.”

MikeWillisUK also expressed similar difficulties of other transcribers, citing problems of editing out filler words and playing back hard-to-hear phrases. The experience made him understand the difficulties subjected to others, but his solution was at hand. Instead of relying only on his typing talents, he used his coding experience to work up a webpage for his transcription experience. With an embedded YouTube player, text box, and controls all near by he was able to cut down on the time it took him to go through the episodes. Where all of this lead him was the creation of a website, Star Citizen Q&A.

Many people, including at CIG, find it can be difficult to remember exactly what was said on a particular topic in regards to Star Citizen. Every week there’s a new 10 for the Chairman/Writers/etc, Around the Verse (or previously Wingman’s Hangar), and other multimedia episodes released by the creators of the game. Avid fans can often find themselves struggling to work up the exact quote, or even point to an episode, that a question was answered or a statement was made. MikeWillisUK first sought out a database and, after not finding one, created one. As he completed the project he soon discovered he wasn’t the only one.

The similarities in the Star Citizen community didn’t stop at trying to find a quote, but extended even into the creation of the database. “Judging by the response I got when I unveiled the site, I think I wasn’t the only one who had been through that experience! I also received a few messages from people who had been planning to make, or were in the process of making very similar tools, so I guess a lot of us were on the same wavelength.”

MikeWillisUK intends to keep updating his project moving forward, but he believes he will only focus on the 10 for the _ series. He’s also expressed a desire to talk with INN in regards to sharing data for a combined database containing StarCitizen media.


Below is the cleaned up Q&A with MikeWillisUK

Q: I’m guessing you’re from the UK. Do you mind saying which part?

A: I am indeed from the UK. I’m from Surrey.

Q: I believe I saw you commenting on Formula 1. What sort of hobbies do you have?

A: You’re right I enjoy Formula 1. Primary hobbies are gaming (obviously!), tennis – I enjoy both playing and watching (big Andy Murray fan), and snowboarding – I’m actually a qualified snowboarding instructor. Went to Canada in 2007 and trained for 3 months to get my qualification. Ended up deciding that I enjoy the riding part a lot more than the teaching part, and decided not to pursue it as a profession! But I try my best to get to the slopes every year, and I do teach my friends on occasion.

Suppose I could also add that I enjoy puzzles, etc. I play a lot of Sudoku, I enjoy solving Rubik’s Cube – always working on reducing my time, and also can solve it blindfolded given enough time and concentration.

Q: For that matter, do you mind saying what you do outside of the SC community?

A: What do I do? Well, I’m currently… between jobs… haha. I’m planning to get into the game development industry – hence my Java qualification, and I’m also looking into learning C++. I struggle sometimes with being interested in too many areas of development. For example, I’ve also tried my hand at modelling and level design at a casual level, and I enjoy creating my own art and graphics for my little game projects too; but I think, although I enjoy being a jack of all trades, ultimately my focus is going to have to be on the coding side of things, because that’s where my main strengths lie.

Q: How long have you been following Star Citizen?

A: I was a backer during the initial crowd funding campaign back in 2012. I caught wind of it fairly early on and followed progress for a week or so before deciding to dive in and become a Citizen.

Q: What about the game drew you to it?

A: Space! I’ve enjoyed space games ever since my dad first let me play Elite on his Tatung Einstein when I was a small kid. From there I eventually progressed into the Chris Roberts world. The visuals in Wing Commander 3 blew me away when I played it (admittedly I never played 1 and 2) and then a few years down the line I discovered Freelancer. I sank hundreds of hours into Freelancer, playing online with friends, hauling cargo and scouring the galaxy for the best ships and weapons. I look back on those days very fondly, and Star Citizen seems like it can be everything Freelancer was and much, much more.

Q: What do you think you’ll be doing in Star Citizen?

A: I think I probably want to try my hand at everything! Whether it’s hauling cargo, mining asteroids, flying missions to shoot down Vanduul or capture criminals, searching for wrecks and hidden treasures, or helping to crew a research vessel in a distant sector of space. I want to experience everything that the game intends to offer. My favourite feeling in Freelancer was starting off in a little Starflier and progressing my way up to a Sabre or an Eagle with hard work, so I intend to start from the bottom rung of the ladder in Star Citizen too – I’ll begin with nothing but an Aurora, and see how much success I can carve out for myself in the universe!

Q: Why in the world did you want to create that massive list of questions contained within one tiny website?

A: Haha! I’ve often read discussions on the r/starcitizen subreddit, and found myself thinking, “no, that’s wrong! I’m sure Chris actually said xyz”… but it was always a huge struggle to actually track down the source and check that I wasn’t crazy, and then reference it in my response. I looked around to see if any kind of question database already existed, and I couldn’t find one, so I decided to bite the bullet and do it myself. Judging by the response I got when I unveiled the site, I think I wasn’t the only one who had been through that experience! I also received a few messages from people who had been planning to make, or were in the process of making very similar tools, so I guess a lot of us were on the same wavelength.

Q: Can you give me a rundown of how you made the whole thing?

A: Okay, so I guess I made it by building on experience from my previous jobs and hobbies, and also with a lot of help from Google! I think that’s pretty common for most programmers – if you’re not sure exactly how to do something, Google usually has the answer. I’ve built a few small websites in the past as a hobby, so I picked up the basics of HTML and CSS doing that. I’m also a qualified Java programmer, and so although there are some big differences I was able to adapt over to JavaScript – which was needed for the SCQA project – without too much difficulty. My previous job involved a lot of spreadsheet, database, and data management work, so I applied my experience from there too.

So the technical side of things – the construction of the actual framework of the websites, and the scripts to make it function – was not too difficult! The hardest part was probably sourcing all of the actual data – the questions and answers from each episode – which was spread out all over the place over the past 2+ years. Obviously you guys at INN helped tremendously with that, having started putting transcripts on your site around episode 50 of 10FTC.

A lot of the episodes in the middle were simply never transcribed accurately by anyone, and so I took it upon myself transcribe many of the missing episodes. But whether I wrote the transcripts myself, or located them, I still had the fairly time consuming process of bringing them all together into one cohesive spreadsheet, which involved a lot of manual copying and pasting! I’m also a bit of a perfectionist and a stickler for detail, so I spent a lot of time making sure things as simple as question timestamps were completely accurate.

A lot of the existing transcripts had slightly lazy timestamps which, if you cut to the video at that moment, would already have CR 3 or 4 seconds into reading the question! Not good enough for me, so I had to go through every single video and note down all the exact timestamps when CR would finish his last sentence and move onto the next question. I want users on my site to feel like it’s a smooth and seamless experience when they click on a question to watch that part of the video.

So once I’m happy with the transcript data in the spreadsheet, it’s a fairly simple matter of converting that into a text file format and uploading that to my web server. Then when a user visits the webpage, an XML request loads the text data, and JavaScript parses the data into a list of questions and answers which can be easily searched through and displayed. The data side of things is still a work in progress too. Every episode of 10FTC is included now, but I’m gradually working on adding in the spin-offs like 10 for the Writers, 10 for the Producers etc. I’d also like to go back over the older episodes at some point and improve the accuracy of the transcripts, to bring them in line with the newest ones.

Q: About how long did it take you to do all the coding for the site?

A: I think I did the coding and layout side of things over the course of 3 or 4 days, spending a few hours on it each day.

Q: You mention that you did some transcription yourself, can you describe the process you took for it?

A: To start with, my process was very basic. I opened the YouTube video in one window, and my notepad program in another. I played the video, listened to a sentence (or part of a sentence if it started to drag on) and then stopped the video, tabbed back over to my notepad and wrote down the words from short-term memory. Then I would tab back, play a bit more, stop, tab back, type… rinse and repeat.

That quickly became very tedious, and if I wanted to skip back through a small amount of the video to double-check a sentence, it involved a lot of switching hands between mouse and keyboard. I wanted to come up with a more efficient way, so I actually created myself another little webpage with some tools to help me transcribe. The webpage has an embedded YouTube video pane, a textbox where I can do my transcribing, and most importantly it also allows me to manipulate the video via my keyboard without ever tabbing away from the textbox. So I can pause/play, or rewind, or speed up/slow down playback all with minimal effort and hand movement.

I also created my own little autofill system, so that I could write shorthand for commonly repeated words and phrases – for example whenever someone says “Star Citizen”, or “Persistent Universe”, I just type “-sc” or “-pu” respectively, and my shorthand is replaced with the full phrase automatically. I think having those tools has been a huge boon and made the transcribing process much less painful.

Q: Considering your transcription, how did that change your outlook on transcribers?

A: I’ve always appreciated the effort that transcribers put in… but I didn’t realise it was quite such a pain in the ass! I’m a reasonably fast typist (about 70-75 WPM) and reckoned that would be enough to see me through without too much trouble, but listening and typing at the same time is a whole different ballgame. If people are able to transcribe while simultaneously listening, and not get their words jumbled up, I take my hat off to them! My brain does not enjoy multi-tasking like that.

Sometimes it is easy to burn 5 or 10 minutes just playing back one near-inaudible phrase, trying to figure out exactly what is said. And it can be hard deciding when to edit out the numerous cases of “umm”, or “ahh”, or “you know”, or “I mean” … or when to leave them in to help convey the flow and tone of the sentence. I definitely have a lot of respect for the guys who do this work multiple times every week, and for much longer shows like ATV and RTV!

Q: Do you think that you’ll continue updating your project as you move forward?

A: I’m still often tinkering with small things on the site. I’m always trying to improve the look and feel of the site and make sure the search runs well. And of course I’ll continue to update the database with new questions each week. But I’m not sure I’ll update it much further beyond that – it serves its purpose! If people do have any ideas for improvements though, I would always encourage them to contact me.

Q: Do you think you’ll do it for other videos done by CIG down the road (Such as AtV, Wingman’s Hangar, etc)?

A: I’ve thrown the idea around… but of course it would mean a lot more work, so I’m leaning towards keeping it “10 for the …” focused. I’ve spoken with some of the guys at INN and I hear you may also have a database in the works, which would be more all-encompassing. Perhaps we can share data, but we’ll have to see how it goes!

Q: What’s your favorite ship and why?

A: That’s a really tough one! I do love the idea of earning enough cash to buy an 890 Jump and cruising around the universe living a fat cat lifestyle while the money rolls in. But I’m going to give the Genesis Starliner some love. It’s a beautiful shape and I do think passenger transit is a pretty cool idea. Maybe I could start my own Org version of EasyJet, with a fleet of Genesis, and manage my empire from my 890 Jump.

Q: How did you feel when you were announced as MVP?

A: I felt very honoured, but also slightly sheepish, as I hadn’t even finished adding in every episode of 10FTC at that point! It felt like I was being congratulated for a job I hadn’t even finished. But I am pleased that my hard work has been recognised and that my site is being used regularly and appreciated.

Q: If you had something you wanted to say to the community as a whole, what would it be?

A: Remain patient! It can be tough when we’re all chomping at the bit, waiting for new content. But the reason Chris and CIG are able to make this game with unfathomable depth and detail is because they don’t have a publisher breathing down their necks, pushing for deadlines and requesting cuts. What good are we if we start making those same demands? Just sit back, relax, and have some faith that the game will be incredible when it’s done!

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: Nope… I think that about covers it.


About the Author:

Graduate with a degree in Aeronautical Science, now working with CAD drawings. Enjoys learning, Sci-Fi games, and long walks on the beach. Wait... this isn't a dating website, is it?

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